Hydrocarbons on Titan

SUBHEAD: Concerns over Peak Oil fade with confirmation of Cheney's homeworld.

By Carolina Martinez on 13 February 2008 For NASA -  

Image above: Artist's computer rendering of the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. From article.

[IB Editor's note: lets face it, when you discover a 'planet' so distant and cold in orbit around the ancient greek god of time who ate his children - that is obviously a good candidate for the homeworld of the former head of the US neo-con regime, Dick Cheney. When it is further discovered to have a massive amount of methane and ethane, more than are presently known to exist on earth - this stuff literally rains down out of it's smog hazy sky - it seems like a clincher. The only remaining question: when will the US invade?]  

Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.

The new findings from the study led by Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., are reported in the Jan. 29 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters. "Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material -- it's a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."

At a balmy minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane are present on the moon's surface, and tholins probably make up its dunes.

The term "tholins"was coined by Carl Sagan in 1979 to describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry. Cassini has mapped about 20 percent of Titan's surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves.

The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves. Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 billion tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting. Dozens of Titan's lakes individually have the equivalent of at least this much energy in the form of methane and ethane.

"This global estimate is based mostly on views of the lakes in the northern polar regions. We have assumed the south might be similar, but we really don't yet know how much liquid is there," said Lorenz. Cassini's radar has observed the south polar region only once, and only two small lakes were visible. Future observations of that area are planned during Cassini's proposed extended mission. Scientists estimated Titan's lake depth by making some general assumptions based on lakes on Earth.

They took the average area and depth of lakes on Earth, taking into account the nearby surroundings, like mountains. On Earth, the lake depth is often 10 times less than the height of nearby terrain. "We also know that some lakes are more than 10 meters or so deep because they appear literally pitch-black to the radar. If they were shallow we'd see the bottom, and we don't," said Lorenz.

 The question of how much liquid is on the surface is an important one because methane is a strong greenhouse gas on Titan as well as on Earth, but there is much more of it on Titan. If all the observed liquid on Titan is methane, it would only last a few million years, because as methane escapes into Titan's atmosphere, it breaks down and escapes into space. If the methane were to run out, Titan could become much colder. Scientists believe that methane might be supplied to the atmosphere by venting from the interior in cryovolcanic eruptions. If so, the amount of methane, and the temperature on Titan, may have fluctuated dramatically in Titan's past.

"We are carbon-based life, and understanding how far along the chain of complexity towards life that chemistry can go in an environment like Titan will be important in understanding the origins of life throughout the universe," added Lorenz. Cassini's next radar flyby of Titan is on Feb. 22, when the radar instrument will observe the Huygens probe landing site. For images and more information visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the United States and several European countries.


Clean Energy Superbugs?

SUBHEAD: Scientists are finding ways to produce high-octane fuel and even pure hydrogen from co-opted algae.

By David Richardson on 9 April 2010 in Miller-McCune -  

Image above: Computer rendering of proposed inddustral scale algae bioreactor in the desert. From (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3972)  

Over the past year, amid falling oil prices, an ongoing food vs. fuel controversy, and a few over-anxious market predictions, the bioenergy bandwagon may have picked up a few scratches and dings. But James Liao and Anastasios Melis say a new kind of photosynthetic biofuel could provide the spark for a clean energy revolution.

President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that by 2022, he wants to “more than double the amount of biofuel produced in the United States” to an annual rate of 36 million barrels. But the most popular biofuels on the market today, such as ethanol and biodiesel, come with significant drawbacks.

Ethanol requires massive investments in land and resources, and competition for these resources sets off worries of a food crisis. Plus, Liao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, says ethanol makes a poor gasoline substitute. An alcohol with a low molecular weight bonding together only two carbon atoms (compared with gasoline’s eight or more bonded carbons), ethanol lacks the octane to deliver.

Biodiesel at least compares to petrodiesel in its performance, but in Liao’s assessment, whether one considers the fermentation of mass quantities of plant material to produce ethanol or the intensive manhandling required to squeeze lipids (the oils) from algae for biodiesel, even the best biofuels in today’s market rely on a series of cumbersome brute force operations that add unnecessary costs to energy.

Melis and Liao believe that photosynthesis — the splitting of water molecules using sunlight and carbon dioxide in a biological system — can provide the hydrocarbons we need without the back-breaking effort. They envision photosynthetic microbes that spew ready-made fuel as they grow as the clean energy equivalent of the money tree. And the seeds they’ve planted are beginning to sprout in the lab.

Melis, a biologist at UC Berkeley’s Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, wonders whether a biological oddity observed more than 70 years ago might point to a clean, renewable source of fuel. In 1939, researchers discovered that, for brief periods when starved for oxygen, certain single-celled algae called cyanobacteria, (also known as blue-green algae) generate hydrogen gas as a product of photosynthesis. However, after mere seconds, the scientists observed the organisms would revert to their normal photosynthetic activity, adding mass in the form of fatty acids, sugars and cellulose while releasing oxygen as a byproduct.

While the discovery demonstrated that photosynthesis could be malleable, scientists chalked up the phenomenon as a biological curiosity.

The push for clean energy, however, renewed interest in the decades-old experiment. Melis, for one, envisions the reaction observed in 1939 as a model for a convenient source of clean energy — provided the peculiar mode of photosynthesis could be sustained.

By manipulating environmental conditions for experimental, genetically engineered algae cultures (chlamydomonas reinhardtii), in 2001, Melis succeeded in doing just that. He found that when he restricted the availability of sulfur, which normally plays an important role in photosynthesis in these organisms, the algae percolated tiny bubbles of pure hydrogen, continuously, over an extended period of time. (The theory of endosymbiosis suggests bodies in the algae, chloroplasts, developed from similar bodies in cyanobacteria.)

Overcoming the social-psychological challenge of the Hindenburg disaster, Melis lined the shelves of his lab with flasks containing strains of hydrogen generating algae and continued tweaking their genes and environmental conditions to boost hydrogen output.

Encouraged by inquiries from venture capitalists, he built a scaled-up version of his biohydrogen generator in his backyard. Built from simple plastic tubing and aquarium supplies, he called the model his “doughnut reactor.” A cubic meter in volume, and filled with algae, water and a dash of baking soda as a carbon source, the reactor could liberate enough hydrogen through its handy plastic tap to provide clean energy, sufficient enough to supply an individual household, anyplace the sun shines.

“If I can do it, anybody can,” Melis said.

And he suggests similar technology could be set up on non-arable land as easily as on fertile fields, providing a perfect fit for energy-poor households in the developing world.

Melis’ effervescent hydrogen bioreactor soon became a cultural event in academic circles. In 2004, it even made an appearance — as a work of art under the banner “Future Farmers” — at a gallery at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.

However, before rushing down to the big box store to buy up its stock of plastic tubing and baking soda, Melis cautions there are a few technical issues to be resolved before “doughnut reactor” becomes a household phrase. Aside from algae husbandry issues, such as controlling sulfur concentrations and keeping colonies well fed and free of microbial invaders through use of large doses of antibiotics, there is a fundamental problem: The algae, even the genetically engineered variety, do not like producing hydrogen when there’s oxygen around.

In fact, the organism’s hydrogen-producing enzyme shuts down in its presence, and, since oxygen is the major byproduct of photosynthesis, solving that problem presents a formidable challenge.

Although interrupting photosynthesis at regular intervals to dissipate the taint of oxygen provides a temporary remedy, Melis believes the procedure wastes precious daylight that could otherwise go into generating hydrogen.

But there’s more to the story. According to Melis, the availability of sunlight represents another limiting factor in fuel production through photobiolysis.

Algae, he says, generally use only the small portion of light in the visible spectrum to support their growth. This leaves huge quantities of energy going untapped in the infrared wavelengths.

And Melis, as stated earlier, doesn’t like to see light wasted.

He decided to add purple bacteria to the mix; these bugs are capable of charging up their metabolic processes on invisible infrared radiation from the deep purple end of the spectrum. Melis reported that the two organisms played well together, boosting the solar energy conversion and hydrogen output within their shared terrarium.

But he finds that bacteria are sometimes too green — shade created by vigorous growth presents a problem of its own. Melis said in his doughnut reactor sunlight can penetrate no deeper than about 5 centimeters into the dense, green canopy of suspended algae, leaving the bulk of the colony in darkness and taking a huge bite out of its photosynthetic potential.

However, Melis noted that naturally occurring mutant algal cells containing a bare minimum of pigmentation could successfully carry out photosynthesis and survive, so he surmises that the productivity of algae might not be tied strictly to the degree of pigmentation within the cells. He regards the green part of the cell as an antenna that is tuned to absorb light from the sun to drive photosynthesis, but he believes this antenna could be shortened considerably without ruining reception.

With backing from the U.S. Department of Energy, Melis is working on a project to isolate, clone and reintroduce antennae-shrinking genes into a hydrogen-generating strain, which he hopes can eventually populate reactors with bacteria in transparent shades of chartreuse that permit hydrogen production down to their very core.

As exciting as the prospect of a photosynthetic hydrogen economy might be, transitioning to this paradigm will take considerable time. What might photobiolytic biofuel offer in the interim?

The grayish hydrocarbon haze that envelops urban settings is well known

by a non-scientific term: smog; and it’s part of the problem. But what of the misty veil that likewise shrouds pristine forests in bands of blue and violet? Hydrocarbons as well, emanating from heat-stressed trees, are, according to some environmental authorities, also part of the problem.

Leaving the pollution question aside, one of the summertime emissions of poplars and pines is known to science as isoprene, and it is a powerful precursor to many chemicals used in industry and transport on a daily basis. As a testament to isoprene’s versatility, Goodyear unveiled the world’s first bio-isoprene tire, fabricated from using “renewable biomass,” at the December Copenhagen Climate Conference. Isoprene also constitutes a potent feedstock for a potential gasoline substitute known as isobutanol, high in octane and easily managed. Could the fuel of the future be growing on trees?

Probably not.

While scooping high-octane hydrocarbons from the sky would likely be futile, Melis and Liao propose replicating nature’s inaccessible largesse with genetically altered microbes, providing a model for what they see as the next generation of biofuels.

Undaunted that in their natural state algae have zero ability to make isoprene, Melis surveyed the plant kingdom to find a set of genes that when transcribed into his bugs would give them that ability. His search led to the ubiquitous, and noxious kudzu vine, which carries an isoprene synthase gene that appeared conveniently matched to the genetic makeup of synechocystis cyanobacteria, a much studied species of cyanobacteria.

Through a meticulous process of engineering the cloned and transplanted genes from kudzu, Melis arrived at a viable strain of synechocystis cyanobacteria, that, when stimulated by sunlight, produced the target chemical isoprene, albeit in miniscule quantities. More than 90 percent of photosynthetic product constituted the usual sugars and biomass that algae generally live off ; a mere 3 percent went to isoprene. The breakthrough, nonetheless, drew notoriety in the scientific community, representing the first engineered platform for photosynthetic isoprene production.

In November 2009, Liao announced that he had successfully spliced genes from a bacteria used by cheese makers, along with genes found in E.coli, into Synechococcus elongatus, thereby commandeering photosynthesis in that strain of bacteria to produce the valuable chemical and fuel stocks isobutyraldehyde and isobutanol, directly from CO2.

With isobutyraldehyde wafting from his bacterial colonies, Liao said he reached his benchmark goal on one of his first attempts: matching the production rate of fuels from algae biodeisel facilities. Although Liao said it is difficult to make direct comparisons between lab results and industrial processes, he says his results show “that we are in the ballpark.” Moreover, he says his bacteria survived high concentrations of the target chemicals by releasing them in gaseous form and remained “productive up to eight days” — and there may be room for improvement. “We have not optimized the bacteria for isobutyraldehyde yet.”

One barrier to large-scale production of photosynthetic biofuels, Liao says, lies in industrial design. “What’s sorely needed now is an economical bio-reactor containment vessel,” he says, hoping for “something with a lot of surface area that can deliver light, with some easy way to distribute nutrients and collect the final product.”

Although the two scientists say they are approaching biosynthetic fuels from different angles, Liao says their work “complement each other.” To which Melis responds, “I like what he’s doing.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The Biofuel Future 8/13/09

"The Crash Course" Interview

SUBHEAD: Chris Martenson tidily sums up our economic problems - "Too much debt".  
Image above: Still from video "The Crash Course - Exponential growth Meets Reality". See below.  

Chris Martenson interviewed on 9 April 2010 in Peak Moment TV (http://www.wordpress.peakmoment.tv/conversations/?p=378)  

By Janaia Donaldson on 7 April 2010 
“The next twenty years will be totally unlike the last twenty… We’ll face the greatest economic and physical challenges ever seen by our country, if not humanity.”

So opens Chris Martenson’s much-viewed online Crash Course illuminating the relationship between economy, energy and the environment. Starting with the power of exponential growth, he tidily sums up our economic problems: Too Much Debt. Chris discusses the implications if we continue the status quo, and ways to prepare. He believes that “if we manage the transition elegantly we can actually improve things.” (www.chrismartenson.com).

Listen to Audio. Read Janaia’s blog on taping this show. 
Video above: "The Crash Course - Exponential Growth Meets Reality" on YouTube. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpm8J958N18)
 See also:
 Ea O Ka Aina - The Crash Course 12/21/08
Ea O Ka Aina - The Five Horsemen 8/9/09

How to Drive your Elephant

SUBHEAD: Dealing with complex problems by pulling the right lever (or ear) the right way.

By Ugo Bardi on 9 April 2010 in The Oil Drum - 

Image above: Driving and coordinating two elephants in handling a single task. From (http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1086036441025473983lWKUqm)

[Author's note: One thing that has always intrigued me about elephants is how the people who drive them manage to control the beast without a harness. There have to be ways, since it can be done, but it cannot be simple. So elephant driving may be seen as as a metaphor for controlling complex systems. What you'll find below is a talk that I gave on this subject at a recent meeting in Italy. It is not a transcription, but a version written from memory that tries to maintain the style and the sense of what I said.]

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for being here today. I see that most of you are entrepreneurs or company managers and so it is a real pleasure to have a chance to speak to you. We, the academics, can only speak about what is to be done, but you are the people who can get things done. For this reason, I thought that I could tell you something that might be useful to you. So, I'll be speaking about elephants.

Now, of course this is a joke. This talk will not be about elephants; not as the main subject, at least. What I know about driving elephants comes mostly from a story by Rudyard Kipling that I read long ago and that, of course, is not enough for me to qualify as an expert on elephants.

What I have in mind, instead, is to tell you something about control theory. But, since we were supposed to have parallel sessions today, if I had mentioned control theory in the title to my talk I was afraid that nobody would have appeared to listen to it. So, I mentioned elephants, instead. From this, at least, you have learned that even academics may know something about marketing.

The elephant is a nice metaphor for what I would like to tell you today. You see, you can't fit a harness to an elephant, at least not of the same kind that is used for horses. Then, how do the people who ride elephants tell the beast to start, stop, where to go and the like?

The way it is done, I understand, is by means of such things as vocal orders, pressure with one's legs and also by a big pointed stick that is used to prick the elephant's head. I don't think the elephant is very happy about being pricked in that way; actually, there is probably a good deal of cruelty involved. But we'll be using elephant driving just as a metaphor for controlling complex systems, so let me just say that it seems to work: you can control an elephant by very small external influences. This is the core of control theory: you want to be able to control large and complex systems doing the smallest possible amount of work.

Control theory is a fascinating subject, often used for controlling such things as planes, ships, and other kinds of machinery. It might also be used for elephants, but there is a difference. With a car or a truck, you turn the steering wheel so much and the wheels turn of so many degrees. You don't need to make a big effort with the wheel to turn a large truck, but the point is that the result is proportional to the effort.

On the contrary, the elephant may not like to go the way you would like it to go and may react in ways that are not at all proportional to what the driver does. That must make things much more difficult. Now, there is a whole class of systems, we may call them "complex systems," which are difficult to control because they react in ways that are not simply proportional to the intensity of an external influence. That means economic and social systems, for instance and - perhaps - also elephants. For what we are discussing here, we might consider that these systems are dominated by internal feedback effects.

The behavior of complex systems is often difficult to predict, but that doesn't mean it is impossible and there is a whole branch of control theory that deals with this problem. Sometimes, controlling complex system is defined as involving "cybernetics," a term that was proposed by Norbert Wiener in 1948. There are several definitions of cybernetics today, but Wiener was very interested in feedback dominated systems; that is, complex systems.

That seems to be still the main aim of cybernetics, although nowadays the term has a bit faded from public consciousness. The term "cybernetics," anyway, comes from a Greek word which means "rudder" and that shows what Wiener had in mind when he coined it. A rudder is used to steer a ship and that may be a better term to use; rather than "control".

Especially when we think of very large complex systems such as the economy or the state, "control" sounds like what the Soviet planners were trying to do and that, as you know, turned out to be not so successful. So, you don't want to control every detail of the system; you don't want to tell the elephant how exactly to move its legs. You just want to steer the elephant in what you think it is a good direction. Then, the elephant knows how to walk.

We don't have a general theory that tells us how to steer a complex system (nor an elephant), but we do have good models that allow us to understand how a complex system behaves. And if you understand how the system behaves, then you can think of what to do to make it go in a certain direction.

One of the commonly used methods to describe complex systems is called "system dynamics." It was developed mainly by Jay Wright Forrester in the 1950s and 1960s. You may not have heard of Forrester, but the study known as “The Limits to Growth” was performed using the methods that he had developed.

You may have read that “The Limits to Growth” is a set of wrong predictions, a flawed study, the work of a group of eccentric (and perhaps slightly feebleminded) academics who had thought that the sky was falling. That is not true – it is mostly propaganda and our tendency of believing what we like to believe. "The Limits to Growth" (1972) and an earlier work by Forrester himself, titled "World Dynamics" (1971), were pioneering works that showed that it is possible to understand the behavior of large and complex systems such as the whole world's economy and, within limits, predict their evolution.

Modifying the behavior of these large and complex systems turned out to be much more difficult. The authors of "The Limits to Growth" searched for ways to avoid the collapse that was predicted by their models. They found that it was possible to keep the system from collapsing if we could stop the world's economic growth and stabilize the world's population. That was easier said than done.

Not only the suggestion was refused, but the authors were accused of being part of a conspiracy to take over the world, to be planning to exterminate most of humankind, and similar niceties. We are seeing a similar reaction nowadays with the global warming issue which, by the way, has to do with a large and complex system; that of the Earth's climate. So, it is very difficult to control very large complex systems, if nothing else because these systems tend to resist change and sometimes react violently against those who try to control them (maybe elephants do the same when they are pricked on the head).

But that doesn't mean that system dynamics is useless. If you reduce a bit your ambitions; that is, if you don't try to save the world, just a little bit of it, then system dynamics can give you good advice. So, what I'd like to tell you now is about an idea that Jay Forrester had; that of the existence of "critical points" (or leverage points) in complex systems. Points you may act on to steer the system without having to do a large effort. A little like pressuring or pricking the elephant in some specific points of the head. You can have a very strong effect on the system by a very small external influence.

This idea of Forrester can be found in his papers, especially those dealing with "urban dynamics," where he reports that most of the commonly implemented policies in urban planning generate results that are opposite to those intended by the policymakers. But Forrester's ideas were also described and discussed in a paper that Donella Meadows wrote in 1999 with the title "Leverage Points, places to intervene in a system" . It is a rather famous paper, also very interesting. I strongly suggest to you to read it when you have a moment. But let me describe its main points for you.

Donella Meadows says that it is easy for most people to identify critical points (or leverage points) in a system; points which strongly affect how the system behaves. If you think about that for thirty seconds, I am sure that you can think of several of these points in your life, in your career, in your company. Elements that either push you onwards or prevent you to do so. Say, your boss stops you from doing what you would want to do, or maybe your husband or your wife are not doing what you would like them to do; that kind of things.

And here is the interesting point. Sure; people are good about identifying critical points; but very bad about doing something about them. What Forrester had noticed is that people tended to act on these points; but pulling the levers in the wrong direction. They would mostly act on the critical points in such a way to worsen the problems, rather than easing them. That sounds strange at first; but let me give you a few examples and I think you'll agree with me (and with Forrester) that people do tend to pull levers in the wrong directions.

You are all involved in managing companies, so I'll try to give you examples that have to do with industry. Let me start with an old story, that of the whaling industry in 19th century (this talk seems to be concerned a lot with big mammals!). In 19th century, people used whaling technologies that may appear to us a bit primitive: sailing ships and hand-held harpoons. Nevertheless, they were efficient enough that whales were captured faster than they could reproduce, at least for some kind of whales that were relatively easy to capture.

By mid 19th century, there was a depletion problem: too many whalers and not enough whales. The result was something similar to the reaction that we have today with of crude oil depletion. You heard the cry: "drill, baby, drill." It means drill more, drill deeper, drill in places where no one had drilled before.

In the case of whaling, we could say that the reaction was something like: “hunt, baby, hunt". Get more whaling ships, better equipped, going faster, and go chasing as many whales as you can. But that worsened the problem. The more whales were killed, the less there were in the ocean. By the 1880s, whalers had run out of whales, at least of the kind that was hunted in that period. So, the whole whaling industry collapsed.

Whalers should have agreed to hunt fewer whales, not more. They should have placed quotas on the number of whales that could be captured. That would have given time to whales to reproduce and give the whaling industry a chance to survive. That was the right way to pull the lever; but; as Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows tell us, that is very difficult.

This kind of behavior has to do with the gut reaction of industry managers when they see sales going down. Their reaction is often the same: lower prices in order to maintain one's market share. That may involve being more efficient, lowering the quality of the product, laying off "unnecessary staff" and, in general, cutting corners wherever possible. That may work in the short run, if the problem is only temporary. Then, when sales pick up again, those people who have maintained - or increased - their market share, will emerge as the winners. But if the problem is structural, as it was in the case of whaling, then it is a suicidal strategy. Everyone tries to keep a constant share of a market that keeps shrinking and the end result can only be collapse.

Let me make a modern example: years ago I stayed at a seaside hotel in Italy. They have me in their mailing list and they keep sending me leaflets with their special offers. I notice that this hotel is becoming cheaper and cheaper as time goes by. If they keep that trend, at some moment it will be cheaper to stay there rather than eating at home. How long can they go on reducing prices without going out of business, I can't say, but surely it cannot be forever. As I said before, lowering prices is a suicidal strategy in the long run.

Now, let's examine the problem with Forrester's ideas in mind - the critical points of the system. Clearly, the manager of that hotel has correctly identified a critical point: many people can't afford long vacations any more. So, suppose you are in charge of the hotel, what would you do? I think there is something here in the idea of doing exactly the opposite of what that manager is doing; that is raise prices.

It looks a bad idea at first, but think about that for a moment. If you can improve service, then you can gain a share of the high-end of the market; and that fraction of the market will probably survive the crisis. In times of crisis, rich people tend to become richer and if you want to survive in the hotel business it is the kind of customers you should aim for. But you don't necessarily have to stay in the tourist market.

In the end, what Forrester says is to be creative. Don't just fight to stay where you are. Find new roads; new ways of doing things. So, stop thinking about tourists. Think instead of transforming your hotel into a school where people can be re-trained for new jobs in a changing economy. Train people, say, in installing solar panels. That is something that will be needed in the future. It is just the first idea that comes to my mind - but I am sure you understand what I mean. You are all creative people and - if you were hotel managers - you would surely think of other possibilities.

But, unfortunately, creative people seem to be just what we are missing. Everywhere, people are fighting as hard as they can to stay where they are. And, as I said, that is a losing proposition. Think of the automotive industry. They have a lot more clout than the hotel industry and they managed to convince the government to subsidize their sales with taxpayers' money; it is what they call the "cash for clunkers" scheme.

But our problem is not that we aren't making enough cars - we are making too many of them! Here in Italy, the cash for clunkers scheme has ended in December of last year and car sales have hit rock bottom. That wasn't a good idea, surely not in the long run. Car makers should think in different ways and move to something else. Windmills or bicycles, I don't know, but surely we can't afford any more to make so many cars. And there are many more examples that you can think of by yourselves.

But I don't want to be too gloomy. I can make for you at least one example where I know that some of your group have been pulling the levers in the right direction: waste management. You see, it is possible to make the right choices by being creative and seeking new ways.

As you know, waste management is a critical point of the economy; especially for us in Italy. Small country, lots of people and lots of waste. It is a real problem, even though some people are exaggerating it a little. You know that most Italian politicians, independently of whether they belong to the left or to the right, seem to agree on what is to be done. It is, “burn, baby, burn.” Build incinerators to get rid of waste and get energy as a boon from the combustion. It is what is called the “waste to energy” scheme which, in Italy, has been given the fancy name of “thermovalorization”.

Now, I think that this is another example of pulling the lever in the wrong direction. If you use incinerators to produce electric power, then you'll find that you need waste. Not just that, you also need that specific kind of waste which contains a lot of plastics, which has a high heating power. So, you'll be in trouble if there is not enough waste of the right kind. And that is what is happening right now: with the contraction of the economy there is less waste and it is waste with a smaller content of plastics. So, you have invested in all those expensive incinerators and there is not enough fuel for them. You didn't solve the problem, you created a bigger one.

Fortunately, some people have understood what the real solution of the waste problem is. It means to pull the lever in the right direction: reduce waste; generate as little of it as possible; zero, if you can. “Zero waste” may be an impossible goal, but if you aim in that direction you will always reduce the size of the problem, never increase it. Of course, there are many ways to reduce waste production – some of you are more expert than me in this field, so I am not going to discuss this point. But I think waste management is a good example of how society may react to a problem. At present, the bad solution - incineration - seems to be winning, at least in Italy. But I think that in the long run what is to be done will appear clear to everyone and, at that point, even politicians will start pushing in the right direction – some of them are doing that already.

So, I gave to you just a few examples of Forrester's idea about critical points. It is a very powerful mental tool and not just for the kind of problems I described. It may work even for your everyday life - even if you are not an elephant driver. You probably are engaged in such things as finding money, finding a job, getting a degree. Maybe you have problems with your relation with your children, your spouse, your boss, your coworkers. Sometimes these problems seem to be enormously difficult. Now, consider that one reason might be that you are pushing in the wrong direction. I am not saying that changing that direction will work every time, but you may at least consider it. It is, in the end, about being a bit creative. Try it.

I wish to thank Costellazione Apulia for giving me the possibility of giving this talk in a nice and friendly environment at the meeting "Raccontami una Storia" in Martina Franca, Italy, on March 19th 2010.  

The paper by Donella Meadows about leverage points is at (http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf)
The story by Rudyard Kipling that I have mentioned is titled "Toomai of the elephants" and you can find it, for instance, at http://www.authorama.com/jungle-book-11.html
As I mentioned whales in addition to elephants, you can find a paper of mine on the subject at http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3960
About the negative reaction against "The Limits to Growth" you can give a look to a paper of mine titled "Cassandra's curse: how "the limits to growth was demonized" at www.theoildrum.com/node/3551


Supermarket Dream

SUBHEAD: The People of the Brook versus Supermarket Splendor.

By Jan Lundberg on 5 April 2010 in Culture Change - 
"Mister America walk on by your supermarket dream Mister America walk on by your liquor store supreme" - Frank Zappa & the Mothers, 1966 album Freak Out
Image above: American style food delivery in soda/chips aisle of German supermarket. Panaorama views joined by Juan Wilson. From (http://nothingforungood.com/2008/07/29/germans-have-117-ways-to-eat-potatoes-but-only-one-flavor-of-chips). Click to enlarge.  

 For many thousands of years, any tribe knew not to overfish the local brook. For if the people did so, fish would not be forthcoming from distant places. There was always some trade, but not of staples (nor paperclips!). It is hard for modern consumers to relate to, but ancient, primitive people could not go shopping for whatever they needed or desired.

Would the people of olden times have preferred to choose, if they could, the method of buying goods from well-stocked refrigerated and frozen stores, with convenient packaging and unlimited variations of products to select?

One might imagine that a quaint objection these ancestors might have raised would be regarding the ability to know the merchant one is buying from, and to have familiarity with the exact location that the food came from. As an antidote to modern trends of artificiality and alienation, the Slow Food Movement can only go so far. It's a limited number of oblivious people who are presently eating fast food too fast, failing to ever fast, who can instead decide to make pasta asciutta by watching the onion and garlic turn golden in the pan of heating olive oil.

To really address the root problem, people need to be out from under the oppression of overwork and employment, and be free from advertising by food corporations. For sure, up against the choice of supermarkets and McGarbage "restaurants," the people of prehistory would have missed the local fish of the pristine brook as well as the conviviality of the tribe's members gathering daily at the stream.

Nettles and other edible and medicinal plants were gathered without stripping the resource clean. The connection to the land was strong; it was everything. All was communal and shared, between people and all species, as a unity within the universe they knew. There were unpleasant aspects of life but these were part of the recipe of collective survival that proved successful for tens of thousands of years.

 The main difference between the later private-property system with its market economy and the tribal, egalitarian culture is the master-slave or boss/owner-worker feature of the new system we know as civilization. If the prehistoric fishers at their brook had been asked if they would trade their freedom and simplicity for working for others in order to buy what had been free, the answer would be a resounding "No! That's crazy!"

 What is the relevance for today of that lost choice, the failure to prevent commodification and commercialization? Modern peoples, made soft with the conveniences and lack of need for physical skills, are quick to imagine that ancient and prehistoric peoples had tough times, did not live long, and, it seems reasonable, were not violence-free warless societies.. However, they endured for far longer than our present societies have or probably will, and the ecosystem was not trashed and poisoned by those prehistoric peoples.

The idea of work seems to not have existed, judging by the absence of the word or its equivalent in primitive tongues, and judging by the low number of hours and days in a week devoted to what one could call work. (see previous articles in Further Reading below) It turns out that primitive societies and pre-modern people lived long lives, but infant mortality has been averaged (by modern students and critics) into estimated life spans. Thus the age one died in primitive or ancient societies, indeed right up to the modern technological era, could appear to be halved to perhaps 40 years old.

The infant mortality of weak offspring, possibly among those requiring Cesarean section today, helped keep the species strong and at a low growth rate (if any) than otherwise. The human species is no longer strong on the whole. Modernized people were strong enough to subdue non-civilized peoples and to tame and exploit nature, but the resultant overpopulation is a false achievement when it cannot be sustained.

We cannot go back now to pristine environments and spend minimal amounts of time for obtaining food, clothing and shelter as in the distant past. Moreover, because of our "success" and letting the organized oppressors take over, we will soon be faced with collapse of the system bringing us, for now, supermarket splendor. The return of tribal, communal living will not be a walk in the park, but once we get there we will appreciate it as the superior, kinder culture we have sorely missed.

This view is dismissed today oftentimes as romanticism, but there seems to be only one working model of sustainability to point to: living close to nature. Social relations are defined today by tolerance of tyranny: of harmful industrial profit schemes, unfair ownership of huge property holdings, and astronomical financial wealth.

As soon as the post-peak oil house of cards topples, "new" social structures will be (re)established. There's a growing number of people already welcoming the end of false wealth's tyranny and of civilized arrogance. Many of us can probably identify with the People of the Brook as a strong genetic archetype and a dream for a saner future. Let's get to "work."


Peak Asphalt

SUBHEAD: : The end of the black top road and the return of gravel roads might limit bike use. Image above: In 1924 it was "folly" to drive on Iowa backroads after a rain, according to the Lincoln Highway Road Guide. From (http://iptv.org/iowapathways/artifact_detail.cfm?aid=a_000340&oid=ob_000221). By Ugo Bardi on 5 April 2010 in The Oil Drum - (http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/6349#more) Peak oil is said to be an inversion of tendency of the economy; but also of many things of everyday life that seem to have started to go back to earlier times. The last inversion of tendency comes from a series of articles in the press that describe the return of gravel roads. For the time being, that seems to be happening mainly in rural areas of the US, as described, for instance in USA-today. In Europe, there are fewer reports on this point, although it seems that the same situation is developing in northern countries. In places such as Finland, the cold climate places a higher stress on paved roads and forces the return to gravel roads. But the lack of press reports doesn't mean that the problem is not there: if you travel to Italy this year, you'll see that a lot of paved roads are in a pitiful state: full of potholes.

One problem is the increasing costs of maintenance. A report of the University of Minnesota shows the progressive increase in the costs of maintaining roads which are paved with what is called "hot mix asphalt", HMA, the kind of paving which we came to consider as normal for all public roads. Asphalt comes from crude oil. It is made from bitumen which is a heavy and viscous form of petroleum; normally the residual of the distillation of crude oil. Could it be that with peak oil we don't just have a problem of availability of fuels and of energy, but also of bitumen for paving roads?

That doesn't seem to be the case. If it is bitumen that we need, there is plenty of it. Just the Canadian tar sands are made mostly of bitumen and are said to contain at least one trillion barrels of it - probably more. To this amount, we can add Venezuela's tar sands, with at least half a trillion barrels. With tar sands, the main problem is to obtain liquid fuels, but if it is bitumen that we want, it is much easier. At present, bitumen doesn't seem to be lacking in the world market and some projections for asphalt indicate that production may be rising in the coming years.

The problem, as usual, is not one of quantity, but one of energy . With minerals, we are not running out of anything except of the energy needed for extraction. It is the principle that I called the universal mining machine. Bitumen doesn't seem to be an exception; we are not running out of bitumen, but we have increasing problems in being able to afford it; just as with a lot of other minerals.

For this reason, the proposal of substituting conventional bitumen with products not coming from crude oil doesn't appear to be very practical. There has been talk of "bioasphalt;" made from a bitumen that could come from such products as sugar, molasses, corn and vegetable oil. But bioasphalt has the same problem of biofuels: there are limits to what we can get from an agriculture already heavily strained to produce enough food and which depends heavily on fossil fuels.

We can pave a few roads with molasses, but we can't expect bioasphalt to substitute oil derived asphalt everywhere. Another alternative material for paving roads is concrete, the kind used for buildings. Concrete doesn't directly depend on fossil fuels - the problem is that it takes a lot of energy to make it. So concrete turns out to be more expensive than conventional asphalt. It may last longer, but don't expect it to become as commonplace as asphalt is today.

In the end, the problem seems to be that peak oil - arriving or already arrived - is placing a tremendous strain on the world's economy. Because of this strain, the kind of money used for maintaining roads is quickly disappearing and the result is the return of unpaved roads. It may be planned or not; the end result, in any case, is the same.

So, it is likely that in the coming years we'll see more and more roads returning to gravel, as it was commonplace in the Western World up to about 50 years ago. When most roads were not paved, cars and trucks had much softer suspension systems and lighter wheels; we may see a comeback of this kind of vehicles which, by their nature, are not made for high speeds. After all, gravel roads don't mean the end of transportation. We'll just have to slow down considerably, and that may not be a bad thing.

Will the Post-Oil future be Bicycle-Free? By Kurt Cobb on 11 April 2010 in Resource Insights - (http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2010/04/will-post-oil-future-be-bicycle-free.html)

U. S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood may soon be nominated for heresy-of-the-year award for an impromptu speech at the 2010 National Bike Summit last month. In that speech he said federal transportation policy will no longer favor automobiles over bicyclists and walkers. As anyone who regularly rides a bicycle knows, this change is big precisely because automobiles and bicycles share much of the same infrastructure. But this very fact may bode ill for the bicycle in a post-oil future. This distressing line of thought occurred to me recently as I was finishing James Howard Kunstler's beautifully written post-oil novel, A World Made by Hand. I spotted not a single bicycle in its 317 pages. Why? Because in the novel the roads upon which one might ride are crumbling beyond passable. These roads are navigable on foot or by horse, but not particularly by anything on wheels. But, wait, you may say, bicycles don't need good roads! We'll use trail bikes instead. All well and good. Still, where will the rubber for the tires come from? What we use now is synthetic rubber made from oil. Perhaps we'll get latex from such places as Brazil and Malaysia, that is, unless world trade has broken down. And, the way in which bicycles are made today, we'll need aluminum smelting operations for all the aluminum parts, even if only for repairs. As simple as a bicycle is compared to a car, there is much that ties it to the energy-intensive, global logistics chain. No doubt we could make bicycle frames out of something other than aluminum. But again, we must ultimately come back to the question of right-of-way. If we assume that there will not be sufficient resources to run a nationwide fleet of private automobiles and therefore neither the political will nor the financial capability to pay for the upkeep of our road system, then we must also assume that the bicycle as a widespread form of transportation will not be practical. Some locales may maintain a few bike trails. But it is hard to see highways being maintained just so bicycles can ride on them. Let's go back a bit in history to understand why. Bicycles came of age in the latter half of the 19th century. As such they were manufactured on the industrial model. Bicycle owners became a potent force for the paving of roads upon which they could then ride. Ironically, the industrial methods for the manufacture of bicycles and the paved roads which bicycle owners championed became the basis for mass-produced automobiles--automobiles which ultimately usurped the roads from bicycles. Now, my apprehension about the future of the bicycle posits that industrial society has sunk into a pretty sorry state and that no forms of motorized land transport for which it is worth maintaining roads survive . But even if we maintain main roads for, say, intercity buses, that would still leave all the side roads--roads ideal for bicycle riding--without maintenance. I'm ashamed to say that until reading Kunstler's novel it had never occurred to me just how dependent my bicycle is on the automotive infrastructure. Could it be true that the bicycle's viability is linked to that of the automobile? Having said all this, I'm hoping someone will talk me down and explain how we might be able to have a future filled with bicycling no matter what the fate of the automobile.


Looting Main Street

SOURCE: Kenneth Taylor (taylork021@Hawaii.rr.com) SUBHEAD: It's not high finance, it's low finance. This isn't capitalism. It's nomadic thievery. Image above: Big banks pillage the rest of us. From article. By Matt Taibbi on 31 March in Rolling Stone Magazine - (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/32906678/looting_main_street) If you want to know what life in the Third World is like, just ask Lisa Pack, an administrative assistant who works in the roads and transportation department in Jefferson County, Alabama. Pack got rudely introduced to life in post-crisis America last August, when word came down that she and 1,000 of her fellow public employees would have to take a little unpaid vacation for a while. The county, it turned out, was more than $5 billion in debt — meaning that courthouses, jails and sheriff's precincts had to be closed so that Wall Street banks could be paid. As public services in and around Birmingham were stripped to the bone, Pack struggled to support her family on a weekly unemployment check of $260. Nearly a fourth of that went to pay for her health insurance, which the county no longer covered. She also fielded calls from laid-off co-workers who had it even tougher. "I'd be on the phone sometimes until two in the morning," she says. "I had to talk more than one person out of suicide. For some of the men supporting families, it was so hard — foreclosure, bankruptcy. I'd go to bed at night, and I'd be in tears." Homes stood empty, businesses were boarded up, and parts of already-blighted Birmingham began to take on the feel of a ghost town. There were also a few bills that were unique to the area — like the $64 sewer bill that Pack and her family paid each month. "Yeah, it went up about 400 percent just over the past few years," she says. The sewer bill, in fact, is what cost Pack and her co-workers their jobs. In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 — but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world's grandest toilet — "the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants" is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street — and misery for people like Lisa Pack. And once the giant shit machine was built and the note on all that fancy construction started to come due, Wall Street came back to the local politicians and doubled down on the scam. They showed up in droves to help the poor, broke citizens of Jefferson County cut their toilet finance charges using a blizzard of incomprehensible swaps and refinance schemes — schemes that only served to postpone the repayment date a year or two while sinking the county deeper into debt. In the end, every time Jefferson County so much as breathed near one of the banks, it got charged millions in fees. There was so much money to be made bilking these dizzy Southerners that banks like JP Morgan spent millions paying middlemen who bribed — yes, that's right, bribed, criminally bribed — the county commissioners and their buddies just to keep their business. Hell, the money was so good, JP Morgan at one point even paid Goldman Sachs $3 million just to back the fuck off, so they could have the rubes of Jefferson County to fleece all for themselves. Birmingham became the poster child for a new kind of giant-scale financial fraud, one that would threaten the financial stability not only of cities and counties all across America, but even those of entire countries like Greece. While for many Americans the financial crisis remains an abstraction, a confusing mess of complex transactions that took place on a cloud high above Manhattan sometime in the mid-2000s, in Jefferson County you can actually see the rank criminality of the crisis economy with your own eyes; the monster sticks his head all the way out of the water. Here you can see a trail that leads directly from a billion-dollar predatory swap deal cooked up at the highest levels of America's biggest banks, across a vast fruited plain of bribes and felonies — "the price of doing business," as one JP Morgan banker says on tape — all the way down to Lisa Pack's sewer bill and the mass layoffs in Birmingham. Once you follow that trail and understand what took place in Jefferson County, there's really no room left for illusions. We live in a gangster state, and our days of laughing at other countries are over. It's our turn to get laughed at. In Birmingham, lots of people have gone to jail for the crime: More than 20 local officials and businessmen have been convicted of corruption in federal court. Last October, right around the time that Lisa Pack went back to work at reduced hours, Birmingham's mayor was convicted of fraud and money-laundering for taking bribes funneled to him by Wall Street bankers — everything from Rolex watches to Ferragamo suits to cash. But those who greenlighted the bribes and profited most from the scam remain largely untouched. "It never gets back to JP Morgan," says Pack. If you want to get all Glenn Beck about it, you could lay the blame for this entire mess at the feet of weepy, tree-hugging environmentalists. It all started with the Cahaba River, the longest free-flowing river in the state of Alabama. The tributary, which winds its way through Birmingham before turning diagonally to empty out near Selma, is home to more types of fish per mile than any other river in America and shelters 64 rare and imperiled species of plants and animals. It's also the source of one of the worst municipal financial disasters in American history. Back in the early 1990s, the county's sewer system was so antiquated that it was leaking raw sewage directly into the Cahaba, which also supplies the area with its drinking water. Joined by well — intentioned citizens from the Cahaba River Society, the EPA sued the county to force it to comply with the Clean Water Act. In 1996, county commissioners signed a now-infamous consent decree agreeing not just to fix the leaky pipes but to eliminate all sewer overflows — a near-impossible standard that required the county to build the most elaborate, ecofriendly, expensive sewer system in the history of the universe. It was like ordering a small town in Florida that gets a snowstorm once every five years to build a billion-dollar fleet of snowplows. The original cost estimates for the new sewer system were as low as $250 million. But in a wondrous demonstration of the possibilities of small-town graft and contract-padding, the price tag quickly swelled to more than $3 billion. County commissioners were literally pocketing wads of cash from builders and engineers and other contractors eager to get in on the project, while the county was forced to borrow obscene sums to pay for the rapidly spiraling costs. Jefferson County, in effect, became one giant, TV-stealing, unemployed drug addict who borrowed a million dollars to buy the mother of all McMansions — and just as it did during the housing bubble, Wall Street made a business of keeping the crook in his house. As one county commissioner put it, "We're like a guy making $50,000 a year with a million-dollar mortgage." To reassure lenders that the county would pay its mortgage, commissioners gave the finance director — an unelected official appointed by the president of the commission — the power to automatically raise sewer rates to meet payments on the debt. The move brought in billions in financing, but it also painted commissioners into a corner. If costs continued to rise — and with practically every contractor in Alabama sticking his fingers on the scale, they were rising fast — officials would be faced with automatic rate increases that would piss off their voters. (By 2003, annual interest on the sewer deal had reached $90 million.) So the commission reached out to Wall Street, looking for creative financing tools that would allow it to reduce the county's staggering debt payments. Wall Street was happy to help. First, it employed the same trick it used to fuel the housing crisis: It switched the county from a fixed rate on the bonds it had issued to finance the sewer deal to an adjustable rate. The refinancing meant lower interest payments for a couple of years — followed by the risk of even larger payments down the road. The move enabled county commissioners to postpone the problem for an election season or two, kicking it to a group of future commissioners who would inevitably have to pay the real freight. But then Wall Street got really creative. Having switched the county to a variable interest rate, it offered commissioners a crazy deal: For an extra fee, the banks said, we'll allow you to keep paying a fixed rate on your debt to us. In return, we'll give you a variable amount each month that you can use to pay off all that variable-rate interest you owe to bondholders. In financial terms, this is known as a synthetic rate swap — the spidery creature you might have read about playing a role in bringing down places like Greece and Milan. On paper, it made sense: The county got the stability of a fixed rate, while paying Wall Street to assume the risk of the variable rates on its bonds. That's the synthetic part. The trouble lies in the rate swap. The deal only works if the two variable rates — the one you get from the bank, and the one you owe to bondholders — actually match. It's like gambling on the weather. If your bondholders are expecting you to pay an interest rate based on the average temperature in Alabama, you don't do a rate swap with a bank that gives you back a rate pegged to the temperature in Nome, Alaska. Not unless you're a fucking moron. Or your banker is JP Morgan. In a small office in a federal building in downtown Birmingham, just blocks from where civil rights demonstrators shut down the city in 1963, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin points out the window. He's pointing in the direction of the Tutwiler Hotel, once home to one of the grandest ballrooms in the South but now part of the Hampton Inn chain. "It was right around the corner here, at the hotel," Martin says. "That's where they met — that's where this all started." They means Charles LeCroy and Bill Blount, the two principals in what would become the most important of all the corruption cases in Jefferson County. LeCroy was a banker for JP Morgan, serving as managing director of the bank's southeast regional office. Blount was an Alabama wheeler-dealer with close friends on the county commission. For years, when Wall Street banks wanted to do business with municipalities, whether for bond issues or rate swaps, it was standard practice to reach out to a local sleazeball like Blount and pay him a shitload of money to help seal the deal. "Banks would pay some local consultant, and the consultant would then funnel money to the politician making the decision," says Christopher Taylor, the former head of the board that regulates municipal borrowing. Back in the 1990s, Taylor pushed through a ban on such backdoor bribery. He also passed a ban on bankers contributing directly to politicians they do business with — a move that sparked a lawsuit by one aggrieved sleazeball, who argued that halting such legalized graft violated his First Amendment rights. The name of that pissed-off banker? "It was the one and only Bill Blount," Taylor says with a laugh. Blount is a stocky, stubby-fingered Southerner with glasses and a pale, pinched face — if Norman Rockwell had ever done a painting titled "Small-Town Accountant Taking Enormous Dump," it would look just like Blount. LeCroy, his sugar daddy at JP Morgan, is a tall, bloodless, crisply dressed corporate operator with a shiny bald head and silver side patches — a cross between Skeletor and Michael Stipe. The scheme they operated went something like this: LeCroy paid Blount millions of dollars, and Blount turned around and used the money to buy lavish gifts for his close friend Larry Langford, the now-convicted Birmingham mayor who at the time had just been elected president of the county commission. (At one point Blount took Langford on a shopping spree in New York, putting $3,290 worth of clothes from Zegna on his credit card.) Langford then signed off on one after another of the deadly swap deals being pushed by LeCroy. Every time the county refinanced its sewer debt, JP Morgan made millions of dollars in fees. Even more lucrative, each of the swap contracts contained clauses that mandated all sorts of penalties and payments in the event that something went wrong with the deal. In the mortgage business, this process is known as churning: You keep coming back over and over to refinance, and they keep "churning" you for more and more fees. "The transactions were complex, but the scheme was simple," said Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement for the SEC. "Senior JP Morgan bankers made unlawful payments to win business and earn fees." Given the shitload of money to be made on the refinancing deals, JP Morgan was prepared to pay whatever it took to buy off officials in Jefferson County. In 2002, during a conversation recorded in Nixonian fashion by JP Morgan itself, LeCroy bragged that he had agreed to funnel payoff money to a pair of local companies to secure the votes of two county commissioners. "Look," the commissioners told him, "if we support the synthetic refunding, you guys have to take care of our two firms." LeCroy didn't blink. "Whatever you want," he told them. "If that's what you need, that's what you get. Just tell us how much." Just tell us how much. That sums up the approach that JP Morgan took a few months later, when Langford announced that his good buddy Bill Blount would henceforth be involved with every financing transaction for Jefferson County. From JP Morgan's point of view, the decision to pay off Blount was a no-brainer. But the bank had one small problem: Goldman Sachs had already crawled up Blount's trouser leg, and the broker was advising Langford to pick them as Jefferson County's investment bank. The solution they came up with was an extraordinary one: JP Morgan cut a separate deal with Goldman, paying the bank $3 million to fuck off, with Blount taking a $300,000 cut of the side deal. Suddenly Goldman was out and JP Morgan was sitting in Langford's lap. In another conversation caught on tape, LeCroy joked that the deal was his "philanthropic work," since the payoff amounted to a "charitable donation to Goldman Sachs" in return for "taking no risk." That such a blatant violation of anti-trust laws took place and neither JP Morgan nor Goldman have been prosecuted for it is yet another mystery of the current financial crisis. "This is an open-and-shut case of anti-competitive behavior," says Taylor, the former regulator. With Goldman out of the way, JP Morgan won the right to do a $1.1 billion bond offering — switching Jefferson County out of fixed-rate debt into variable-rate debt — and also did a corresponding $1.1 billion deal for a synthetic rate swap. The very same day the transaction was concluded, in May 2003, LeCroy had dinner with Langford and struck a deal to do yet another bond-and-swap transaction of roughly the same size. This time, the terms of the payoff were spelled out more explicitly. In a hilarious phone call between LeCroy and Douglas MacFaddin, another JP Morgan official, the two bankers groaned aloud about how much it was going to cost to satisfy Blount: LeCroy: I said, "Commissioner Langford, I'll do that because that's your suggestion, but you gotta help us keep him under control. Because when you give that guy a hand, he takes your arm." You know? MacFaddin: [Laughing] Yeah, you end up in the wood-chipper. All told, JP Morgan ended up paying Blount nearly $3 million for "performing no known services," in the words of the SEC. In at least one of the deals, Blount made upward of 15 percent of JP Morgan's entire fee. When I ask Taylor what a legitimate consultant might earn in such a circumstance, he laughs. "What's a 'legitimate consultant' in a case like this? He made this money for doing jack shit." As the tapes of LeCroy's calls show, even officials at JP Morgan were incredulous at the money being funneled to Blount. "How does he get 15 percent?" one associate at the bank asks LeCroy. "For doing what? For not messing with us?" "Not messing with us," LeCroy agrees. "It's a lot of money, but in the end, it's worth it on a billion-dollar deal." That's putting it mildly: The deals wound up being the largest swap agreements in JP Morgan's history. Making matters worse, the payoffs didn't even wind up costing the bank a dime. As the SEC explained in a statement on the scam, JP Morgan "passed on the cost of the unlawful payments by charging the county higher interest rates on the swap transactions." In other words, not only did the bank bribe local politicians to take the sucky deal, they got local taxpayers to pay for the bribes. And because Jefferson County had no idea what kind of deal it was getting on the swaps, JP Morgan could basically charge whatever it wanted. According to an analysis of the swap deals commissioned by the county in 2007, taxpayers had been overcharged at least $93 million on the transactions. JP Morgan was far from alone in the scam: Virtually everyone doing business in Jefferson County was on the take. Four of the nation's top investment banks, the very cream of American finance, were involved in one way or another with payoffs to Blount in their scramble to do business with the county. In addition to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns paid Langford's bagman $2.4 million, while Lehman Brothers got off cheap with a $35,000 "arranger's fee." At least a dozen of the county's contractors were also cashing in, along with many of the county commissioners. "If you go into the county courthouse," says Michael Morrison, a planner who works for the county, "there's a gallery of past commissioners on the wall. On the top row, every single one of 'em but two has been investigated, indicted or convicted. It's a joke." The crazy thing is that such arrangements — where some local scoundrel gets a massive fee for doing nothing but greasing the wheels with elected officials — have been taking place all over the country. In Illinois, during the Upper Volta-esque era of Rod Blagojevich, a Republican political consultant named Robert Kjellander got 10 percent of the entire fee Bear Stearns earned doing a bond sale for the state pension fund. At the start of Obama's term, Bill Richardson's Cabinet appointment was derailed for a similar scheme when he was governor of New Mexico. Indeed, one reason that officials in Jefferson County didn't know that the swaps they were signing off on were shitty was because their adviser on the deals was a firm called CDR Financial Products, which is now accused of conspiring to overcharge dozens of cities in swap transactions. According to a federal antitrust lawsuit, CDR is basically a big-league version of Bill Blount — banks tossed money at the firm, which in turn advised local politicians that they were getting a good deal. "It was basically, you pay CDR, and CDR helps push the deal through," says Taylor. In the end, though, all this bribery and graft was just the table-setter for the real disaster. In taking all those bribes and signing on to all those swaps, the commissioners in Jefferson County had ­basically started the clock on a financial time bomb that, sooner or later, had to explode. By continually refinancing to keep the county in its giant McMansion, the commission had managed to push into the future that inevitable day when the real bill would arrive in the mail. But that's where the mortgage analogy ends — because in one key area, a swap deal differs from a home mortgage. Imagine a mortgage that you have to keep on paying even after you sell your house. That's basically how a swap deal works. And Jefferson County had done 23 of them. At one point, they had more outstanding swaps than New York City. Judgment Day was coming — just like it was for the Delaware River Port Authority, the Pennsylvania school system, the cities of Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles, the states of Connecticut and Mississippi, the city of Milan and nearly 500 other municipalities in Italy, the country of Greece, and God knows who else. All of these places are now reeling under the weight of similarly elaborate and ill-advised swaps — and if what happened in Jefferson County is any guide, hoo boy. Because when the shit hit the fan in Birmingham, it really hit the fan. For Jefferson County, the deal blew up in early 2008, when a dizzying array of penalties and other fine-print poison worked into the swap contracts started to kick in. The trouble began with the housing crash, which took down the insurance companies that had underwritten the county's bonds. That rendered the county's insurance worthless, triggering clauses in its swap contracts that required it to pay off more than $800 million of its debt in only four years, rather than 40. That, in turn, scared off private lenders, who were no longer ­interested in bidding on the county's bonds. The banks were forced to make up the difference — a service for which they charged enormous penalties. It was as if the county had missed a payment on its credit card and woke up the next morning to find its annual percentage rate jacked up to a million percent. Between 2008 and 2009, the annual payment on Jefferson County's debt jumped from $53 million to a whopping $636 million. It gets worse. Remember the swap deal that Jefferson County did with JP Morgan, how the variable rates it got from the bank were supposed to match those it owed its bondholders? Well, they didn't. Most of the payments the county was receiving from JP Morgan were based on one set of interest rates (the London Interbank Exchange Rate), while the payments it owed to its bondholders followed a different set of rates (a municipal-bond index). Jefferson County was suddenly getting far less from JP Morgan, and owing tons more to bondholders. In other words, the bank and Bill Blount made tens of millions of dollars selling deals to local politicians that were not only completely defective, but blew the entire county to smithereens. And here's the kicker. Last year, when Jefferson County, staggered by the weight of its penalties, was unable to make its swap payments to JP Morgan, the bank canceled the deal. That triggered one-time "termination fees" of — yes, you read this right — $647 million. That was money the county would owe no matter what happened with the rest of its debt, even if bondholders decided to forgive and forget every dime the county had borrowed. It was like the herpes simplex of loans — debt that does not go away, ever, for as long as you live. On a sewer project that was originally supposed to cost $250 million, the county now owed a total of $1.28 billion just in interest and fees on the debt. Imagine paying $250,000 a year on a car you purchased for $50,000, and that's roughly where Jefferson County stood at the end of last year. Last November, the SEC charged JP Morgan with fraud and canceled the $647 million in termination fees. The bank agreed to pay a $25 million fine and fork over $50 million to assist displaced workers in Jefferson County. So far, the county has managed to avoid bankruptcy, but the sewer fiasco had downgraded its credit rating, triggering payments on other outstanding loans and pushing Birmingham toward the status of an African debtor state. For the next generation, the county will be in a constant fight to collect enough taxes just to pay off its debt, which now totals $4,800 per resident. The city of Birmingham was founded in 1871, at the dawn of the Southern industrial boom, for the express purpose of attracting Northern capital — it was even named after a famous British steel town to burnish its entrepreneurial cred. There's a gruesome irony in it now lying sacked and looted by financial vandals from the North. The destruction of Jefferson County reveals the basic battle plan of these modern barbarians, the way that banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have systematically set out to pillage towns and cities from Pittsburgh to Athens. These guys aren't number-crunching whizzes making smart investments; what they do is find suckers in some municipal-finance department, corner them in complex lose-lose deals and flay them alive. In a complete subversion of free-market principles, they take no risk, score deals based on political influence rather than competition, keep consumers in the dark — and walk away with big money. "It's not high finance," says Taylor, the former bond regulator. "It's low finance." And even if the regulators manage to catch up with them billions of dollars later, the banks just pay a small fine and move on to the next scam. This isn't capitalism. It's nomadic thievery. .

"New" Kekaha Landfill Decision

SUBHEAD: The county has grappled with siting a new landfill since 988 when then-mayoral-candidate JoAnn Yukimura called the lack of landfill space a crisis.

Image above: Work of grading Kekaha Landfill from county photo records (http://www.kauai.gov/Government/Departments/PublicWorks/SolidWaste/NewLandfillSite/tabid/71/Default.aspx).  

By Andy Parx on 7 April 2010 in Parx News Daily - (http://parxnewsdaily.blogspot.com/2010/04/pnn-sources-say-mayor-to-announce-new.html)

Mayor Bernard Carvalho has told multiple reliable sources that will be announcing the new landfill site on or before April 15 and, according to many, that site is likely to be the one across the highway from the current landfill in Kekaha.

According to reports the previously selected “Umi” site in Kalaheo was “mis-scored” when the fact that it is currently in long term agricultural use by Kaua`i Coffee was not considered and Carvalho has told many community members that he will have an announcement of the new scoring results by April 15. “Discussions continue in regards to the next steps on the landfill siting.

The Mayor is hoping to issue a statement on this matter later this month” according to county spokesperson Mary Daubert who would not confirm the date or the selection of Kekaha.. “Kekaha Mauka” was announced as the site ranked second by a task force earlier this year and a source close to the current process who asked not to be identified told us that it is likely to be the one “selected” on the 15th.

But anyone who thinks that the Kekaha community will be up in arms over environmental justice concerns had better think again.

“I don’t really have any objections” community leader Bruce Pleas told PNN “ as long as the ‘host community benefit (HCB)’ is sufficient and the community buys in”.

Although he thinks that there could be some new more innovative ways to deal with the current and new site he doesn’t think most of the people of Kekaha will object since they have already bought into the concept of being paid by the county for hosting the current landfill. But that presumes problems with the current HCB can be resolved.

Under a current program the county has set up a HCB Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) which is deciding what to do with $650,000 plus another $80,000 in yearly monies designed to compensate the town for the last 57 years of hosting, the first the “dump” and later, the “sanitary landfill”.

The problem is that the money is still under county control according to a source close to the advisory group who asked not to be identified because it is “too controversial a topic and it will take skill and time to assess the broad range of perspectives, attitudes, and feelings emanating from the community of Kekaha”.

The original amount of $650,000.00 which the County Council approved has not yet been "received" by the community, our source told us. “That amount is in the Solid Waste department of the County of Kauai.

The additional amount of $80,000.00 is also with the Solid Waste department. Presumably, an amount will be allocated annually to the community when the landfill is sited, until such time when the County of Kauai decides that no Host Community Benefit Fund will be awarded.”

How the money will be distributed and how the final decision on how to use it will be made remains problematic, with the HCB CAC wanting to make sure that the community gets to make the final decision and the administration wanting to retain final say over how the money is spent.

“As matters now stand... (a)t the last (CAC) meeting, it was decided that some recommendations would be made in writing to the Mayor for the Mayor's consideration as to whether the recommendations should be implemented.

At that meeting, also, a formal request was submitted by the community organization to have the HCB Fund allocation awarded directly to the organization to hold in behalf of the community with the understanding that the HCB Fund CANNOT be expended by the community organization without the approval of the community in determining as to how that fund should be expended.” our source said in an email.

If that issue can be resolved the question remains as to whether the community will buy into hosting the new landfill without some guarantees over how much more money they will receive, how the money will be distributed and their ability to determine how the money will be spent. For his part Pleas wonders whether there isn’t another more innovative way to use the existing footprint. Places on the mainland have been “mining” their old dumps that contain mostly metals, glass and other recyclable items after all the organic waste has decomposed, he said.

 If that were done to the 36 acre closed “phase 1”- using the in-use “cells B and C” for the “mined” non-recyclable materials- we’d have not just have a huge area for a “new” landfill site but could have all of our prior solid waste placed over currently required “liners” to insure against leakage into the water table and ocean, Pleas said.

But that would require implementation of a “zero waste” program which the county council recently nixed in approving a coordinated solid waste approach contained in the latest iteration of the county-funded R.W Beck study.

Also dealing with all the toxic materials- which any long time Kekaha resident will attest were dumped there over the years, especially by the nearby navy base- could make such a project problematic.

The county has grappled with siting a new landfill since at least 1988 when then-mayoral-candidate JoAnn Yukimura called the lack of landfill space a “crisis” that needed immediate attention. .

Heading towards social collapse?

SUBHEAD: The nations most immune to the downturn are oriented towards serving the needs of their own populations, have regionalized, smaller, manageable economies. Image above: An aerial photo of Aston Kaanapali Shores Resort on Maui, Hawaii. An unsustainable economic model. From (http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/blogs/hawaii_today/Maui) By Emily Spence 10 April 2010 in Atlantic Free Press - (http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/news/1/13011-after-peak-oil-are-we-heading-towards-social-collapse.html) Recently, Glen Sweetnam, director of the International, Economic and Greenhouse Gas division of the Energy Information Administration at the Department of Energy announced that worldwide oil availability had reached a "plateau". However, his statement was not made known through a major U.S. mainstream media outlet. Instead, it was covered in France's "Le Monde" as follows: article in Le Monde. One could assume that the U.S. assessment of the oil decline was exposed through this particular publication perhaps due to some arrangement that Barack Obama made with Nicolas Sarkozy. Maybe it is an indirect way to alert the French while keeping most Americans still in the dark on the topic so that the later bunch can ignorantly carry onward as usual. After all, no unsettling prognosis should disturb their slow return into shopoholic ways that keep the economy, particularly China's on which the U.S. federal government depends for loans, going strong. All considered, there was not, as far as I know, even a ten second blurb about Glen Sweetnam's message issued via newscasts in New England where I live. At the time of his declaration, their reports primarily covered ad nauseam the recent flood again ... and again. In a similar vein, no reporter discussing the deluge dared to raise the point that worsening extreme weather is on the way with climate change consequences in the mix, along with oil's relationship to these outcomes. Moreover, imagine the effect on the Dow or NASDAQif Glen Sweetnam's estimation and a discussion of connected economic ramifications got splashed all across the U.S.A. What exactly are the implications? Life After Growth, Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow-in-Residence at Post Carbon Institute, states:
"In effect, we have to create a desirable 'new normal' that fits the constraints imposed by depleting natural resources. Maintaining the 'old normal' is not an option; if we do not find new goals for ourselves and plan our transition from a growth-based economy to a healthy equilibrium economy, we will by default create a much less desirable 'new normal' whose emergence we are already beginning to see in the forms of persistent high unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, and ever more frequent and worsening financial and environmental crises—all of which translate to profound distress for individuals, families, and communities."
In other words, we collectively have to stop our delusions about perpetual economic growth and find another way to live from this point forward. We need to stop pretending that all is well because our myopic view of life shows no oil or other major shortfalls in the very near future. If we do not face up to the truth, the repercussions are clear. Instead of an "ignorance is bliss" outlook, it's markedly better to have long range vision and see the coming monster so that meaningful preparations can be made. Scrutiny of the landscape behind and ahead followed by timely adaptation is required. A suitable response is preferable to someone or some group blindly sticking to the same old patterns that could have worked well in the past, but are no longer functionally viable. (Shortsighted government leaders trying to wring the last drops of oil out of the Earth to continue globalized commercial goals certainly provide a clear case in point.) Certainly, reality does not conform to fanciful hopes and dreams regardless of the degree that they are compelling due to familiarity or any other reasons. A willful adherence to past choices and whimsies just won't help under the circumstances. As John Adams suggested:
"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
At the same time, our current standard of living clearly is provided by our ability to burn through unimaginable amounts of fossil fuels, including an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil a year whilst roughly 40 percent of global energy consumption stems from petroleum. Conversely, people without access to such rich energy sources, whether in developed or developing nations, rightfully equate prosperity and access to material goods with fossil fuel use. After all, no "green" substitute can even come close to the energy density obtained by their derivatives. As such, Robert Bryce, managing editor of "Energy Tribune" and author of the newly released Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy, and the Real Fuels of the Future, points out in Let's Get Real About Renewable Energy at online WSJ: "We can double the output of solar and wind, and double it again. We'll still depend on hydrocarbons." In his view, the reason is that we can never, in a reasonable amount of time, reach the colossal scale needed to supply sufficient energy by alternative means. Likewise, "[renewables] cannot provide the baseload power, i.e., the amount of electricity required to meet minimum demand, that Americans want." At the same time, access to fossil fuels will increasingly be a major driver of small and large conflicts around the world with the biggest contenders -- most notably the U.S.A., China and Russia -- using ever more forceful means to gain advantage over rivals. As such, the current Middle East and African wars are diminutive in scale compared to the contention that lies ahead. In addition, the pending oil shortfall will cause products, services and food that rely on oil to skyrocket in cost. Moreover, petroleum derivatives serve as the foundation for fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, transportation of goods to markets, the majority of the grocery packaging operations (i.e., the manufacture of containers in addition to the bottling and canning processes, etc.) and, of course, operational farm machinery. All considered, imagine just farms alone being run without sufficient oil. Would they be capable to supply enough food for close to seven billion people without it? How will they provide for the nine to ten billion expected to be on the Earth in approximately forty years? Henry Kissinger stated, "Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world." However, he perhaps neglected to consider that our food, practically all industry and finance are deeply tied to energy and that, in turn, is tied to fossil fuels. According to a Greenpeace USA report released last month:
"'Nearly 71 percent of U.S. electricity comes from fossil fuels, including 53 percent from coal. Of the remainder, 21 percent is generated from nuclear power, 15 percent from natural gas, 7 percent from hydro, and less than 2 percent from other renewable sources.' As a result of this energy mix, the U.S. emits more than 2,500 million metric tons of C02 (MMtC02) every year."
In addition, coal and gases, that can be converted into power supplies, are not endlessly abundant. So in light of our energy dilemma, what can be expected in times ahead? Image above: Same place, but a different time. Herb Kane's painting of Kanapali, Maui, in pre-contact Hawaiian times. Note below how much the landscape looks like Salt Pond Beach today. From (http://www.herbkanestudio.com/gallery/ancient_hawaii/kaanapali_in_the_ancient_ti.html) According to Thomas Wheeler in It's the End of the World as We Know It, ":
"The consensus is the suburbs will surely not survive the end of cheap oil and natural gas. In other words, the massive downscaling of America - voluntary or involuntary - will be the trend of the future. We are in for some profound changes in the 21st century. The imminent collapse of industrial civilization means we'll have to organize human communities in a much different fashion from the completely unsustainable, highly-centralized, earth-destroying, globalized system we have now. There will need to be a move to much smaller, human-scale, localized and decentralized systems that can sustain themselves within their own landbase. Industrial civilization and suburban living relies on cheap sources of energy to continue to grow and expand. That era is coming to an end. One of the most important tasks right now is to prepare for a very different way of life."
Nonetheless, Barack Obama and his cohorts have recklessly decided to try to extend our period of dependence on oil for "business as usual" instead of using a significant portion of it, along with a lavish amount of federal funds, to establish a firm foundation for alternative energy provision and the massive, societal changes that are on the way. In other words, they are still trapped in an all-out effort to support globalized industry (including its offshored job market and gargantuan transportation network) instead of their preparing the public for post-peak oil lifestyles in which human welfare and regionalized community development are emphasized. Assuredly, facilitation of such a constructive switch would help America across the board. The reason is that the redirection of wealth away from horrific resource wars, macro-scale business and pernicious corporate bailouts towards the creation of robust decentralized economic bases would yield many benefits. The action could generate jobs, serve to protect the raw materials and the natural environments on which communities rely and curb fossil fuel use since many products would be created and used locally. It could, also, lead individuals and groups into gaining the necessary skills and understandings to create assorted merchandise, foster developments of co-ops and other innovative organizations like Simple Gifts Farm, as well as strengthen the U.S. economy at the grassroots level. Moreover, their backing of transnational corporate agendas is plainly ruinous for environmental well-being and multitudinous societies across the globe. It, also, ensures that the most affluent class continues to make staggering financial gains at the expense of others. As such, many people face increasing deteriorating circumstances while, in tandem, their surrounding natural world falls apart due to resource plunder and environmental disasters. As Bruce Sterling indicates, "No civilization can survive the physical destruction of its resource base." Indeed, closed resource and energy systems have built-in limits to growth regardless of whether there are increases in population, resource consumption or energy demands. The results of exceeding the constraints are undeniably clear. They include armed invasions and resource grabs from populations least capable to defend their assets and lands from aggressors, dwindling supplies of critical commodities as thresholds are reached and, ultimately, diminished economic gains, anyway. All the same, any government employee who advocates for a cutback in energy use or globalized trade would be committing political suicide. He would, also, face a hostile public, including industrialists and farm owners, along with his being shunned by lobbyists and reelection campaign contributors alike. Simultaneously, it is apparent that 'revolving door' politics between corporate executives, politicians and bureaucrats with whom global-scale moguls sometimes collude do, in fact, exist and even lead, in some instances to regulatory capture. The overall outcome from such a pattern is unchecked corporate exploitation, deceit and power mongering during which time nations' general populations become progressively destitute. Meanwhile, the ├╝ber-class, without meaningful regulatory brakes on free market enterprise, obtain ever greater control over worldwide resources and the financial wherewithal to seize even more control over time. Likewise, the overall arrangement leads to multinational business owners seeking ever cheaper labor wherever it exists and even if it involves young children or unsafe practices, ever new consumers and an endless supply of raw materials from developing regions with lax (if any) conservation regulations. They, also, abandon countries in which coveted materials, when not already commandeered, are protected by stiff environmental laws. Concurrently, jobs continue to drain from nations if their standard minimum wages are not the absolute lowest to be found or there are no new stores of resources to tap. In relation, Jan Lundberg indicates, in The People Of The Brook Versus Supermarket Splendor:
"Social relations are defined today by tolerance of tyranny: of harmful industrial profit schemes, unfair ownership of huge property holdings, and astronomical financial wealth. As soon as the post-peak oil house of cards topples, 'new' social structures will be (re)established. There's a growing number of people already welcoming the end of false wealth's tyranny and of civilized arrogance."
Clearly, our choices in terms of the future that we want to create will in time be largely determined by limitations in oil and other resources. It stands to follow that we can either have a last man standing orientation in which only the most affluent and powerful people have lavish supplies of expensive energy and material goods or we can foster deglobalization, which leads into equitable sharing of resources, job creation, strengthening of community ties, assurance that local resource bases are not exceeded and creation of a social foundation that does not increasingly divide the world between the rich and the poor members of society. The second option, also, protects against the sort of widespread financial collapse that occurs in the buoy model. In such an arrangement, a descending buoy, when additional buoys are hooked by a line to a sinking one, drags the others to some degree downward based on proximity wherein the ones having the closest connections are pulled down the most. Alternately put, guess about what happens next when one's own economy, assets, social well being and so forth are precariously linked to declining partners. Is it a structurally safe arrangement? All considered, it is easy to notice that some individuals and countries faring relatively well throughout the ongoing recession are ones whose economic foundations have been largely isolated from worldwide influences. Moreover, the nations mostly immune to the downturn tend to be oriented towards serving the needs of their own populations, have been largely regionalized in focus, and generally have smaller, comparatively simple, manageable economies, as the U.S. and other countries, in my opinion, should aim to duplicate as much as possible. In the end, according to Charles T. Maxwell:
"Our country's leaders have three main choices:
  1. Taking over someone else's oil fields until they are depleted;
  2. carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark;
  3. or changing our life style by energy conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs."
I would add to his perspective that our leaders and the rest of us must, in fairly short order, start creating self-reliant, ecologically healthy communities, ones that are durable and flexible so as to reasonably withstand difficult outside forces, such as lack of sufficient oil or, in the least, the crippling post-peak oil prices, that will come to pass. Only if we successfully do so can we avoid the most dire consequences from the severe deficits to come. Image above: Looking mauka from Salt Pond Beach area on Kauai 8/11/04. Photo by Juan Wilson. With the current Peak Oil interval, we have a grace period when oil is still fairly inexpensive and abundant. At the same time, we cannot expect our government leaders to help society transition off of heavy oil dependence on account of their being controlled by "big business" interests. Therefore, it is up to average citizens to create the reforms that lead into localized economic and social development. If the enterprise is not actively taken in a timely fashion, the resultant chaos, as pointed out by Dmitry Orlov in The Five Stages Of Collapse, will be unavoidable. .